Opinion: Gretchen Whitmer has failed Michigan seniors once again

Jim Runestad

First it was the disastrous policy of placing COVID-19-positive patients into nursing homes.

Then it was the forced isolation, with confusing and contradictory rules.

Now Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has failed Michigan seniors once again — both by botching the vaccine rollout, and by pocket-vetoing a common-sense bill that would have protected nursing home residents from abuse and neglect.

It’s baffling, inexcusable and beyond words. It makes you wonder what Michigan seniors did to get the governor’s target on their backs.

Whitmer chose to play hide-and-seek politics with the lives of our most vulnerable, Runestad writes.

According to the Michigan COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard, as of Jan. 18, 5.14% of Michigan residents have been given the COVID-19 vaccine, while more than half a million vaccines have been distributed but not yet administered. As of Jan. 20, Michigan’s rate of coronavirus vaccines administered is 23rd in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Local health officials all over the state are struggling under the mismanagement. Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, standing in front of a freezer with no vaccines, put it plainly: “The governor overpromised something that health departments around the state cannot deliver ... It’s almost an impossibility.”

Government incompetence on vaccines is one thing. But knowingly choosing to deny legislation that would protect seniors from abuse and isolation is another thing completely. It’s yet another example of the governor failing our seniors.

Senate Bill 77 would have given nursing home residents and their families the option of putting a camera in their own room. All roommates would have to sign off, notice of the camera would have to be posted at the door of the facility and numerous other privacy provisions would have to be in place.

It is a much-needed change. My office receives hundreds of calls every year reporting nursing home abuse. But it’s often hard to prove without a video. And even then, these are only the cases that we know about.

This legislation was a great opportunity for the governor to step up and protect our most vulnerable. Instead, she pocket-vetoed a common-sense help for residents being abused. And in doing so, she enabled the abuse to continue.

Norman Bledsoe, a 75-year-old nursing home resident in Detroit, was beaten by a young COVID-19 patient placed in the nursing home. On the video, we saw Norman — who eventually died — severely beaten by the younger resident. If a graphic video of an elderly man being beaten didn’t convince the governor to support SB 77, I don’t know what will.

At a time when seniors needed help the most, the governor simply let them down. Again.

Rather than show leadership and protect nursing home residents, Whitmer chose to play hide-and-seek politics with the lives of our most vulnerable.

Despite her actions, I will not be detoured from standing up for the greatest generation. Residents and their families deserve to know that their loved ones are safe. They deserve to be able to communicate with them. And they deserve to be safe from COVID-19.

Simply put, our seniors just deserve better all around. And right now, they’re not getting it from the governor.

State Sen. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, represents Michigan’s 15th District.